It’s a box made of pine and plywood. Measures three feet by eight inches. Has a brass handle on one side, a four-inch slot on its hinged top, and a hasp enabling the custodian to secure it with an ordinary padlock. Secure, assuming the person in possession of the key is trustworthy.
It is, or was, a ballot box. When I received it a tattered label glued to its frame identified it as having received the penciled preferences of voters in Scott, a community of some charm a bit east of Little Rock.
No election fraud here: it was a gift from the late Pulaski County Judge B. Frank Mackey, with whom I had a friendly enough relationship in the early 1970s, when I did a stint covering the county courthouse. Pulaski had long since adopted voting machines and the old wooden ballot boxes, scores of them, were in storage. Mackey said, what the heck, and started giving them away, reasoning they weren’t good for much of anything except kindling.
Wrong. In my bachelor days, the Scott ballot box served me well enough as a clothes hamper, a function it continued to serve for rather a few post-matrimonial years. Sort of cute, my wife thought. When the cuteness wore off it was relegated to our attic, where it remains to this day, valueless save as a momento.
You can still request a paper ballot in Arkansas, and surely a few voters do, either to cope with some handicap or from an abundance of sentiment, or even contrariness. But upon asking a nice lady at the Secretary of State’s office when the last county, or precinct, abandoned paper ballots en masse for voting machines, I got a straightforward “I don’t know.” That long.
A few Arkansans of a decidedly certain age might pine for the long tense hours spent at any of our courthouses, awaiting hand-tabulated precinct results that sometimes meant long nights gone to early mornings, and beyond. Voting machines, it should be noted, did not necessarily eliminate election evening excitement, nor confusion. Nor litigation. Hanging chad, anyone? Oh, that was Florida.
And voter rolls: oversized leatherbound volumes or canvass-covered binders with hand-scripted or typewritten indices of who was eligible to mark an X and then deposit the slip into that secure box, ballots eventually to be shredded or burned.
Enough reminiscing. If there’s a time for nostalgia this isn’t it.
The Bloomberg news service reports that attempts by Russia, or Russian individuals almost certainly acting with the tacit approval of the Kremlin, to penetrate the American electoral apparatus was far more extensive than previously reported. The Bloomberg account said its reporters had confirmed through official but confidential sources that Russia-based hackers had attacked voter files and state and local election software in no fewer than 39 states, nearly twice the number previously acknowledged.
In a cyber-age a foreign adversary need not sneak spies across the border. Just recruit computer geeks.
In Illinois the intruders attempted, apparently without success, to modify and even erase voter registration files. Much the same sort of cyber-burglary was underway as well in California and Florida. U.S. officials became aware of the endeavor and put into place devices to trace the source of the invasion. Moscow. Or, if not precisely within the Russian capitol city, plainly within President Vladimir Putin’s domain. American security officials sneer at Putin’s suggestion that the hacking might be the work of free-lance techno-criminals, within or outside Russia. As the former FBI director testified last week, there is no doubt, none, of the source of the mischief.
Though it stands to reason that hackers bent on political mayhem would focus primarily on the larger states, why stop there? Evidently they didn’t, witness the near-80 percent of U.S. states reporting an attempted intrusion. Arkansas may have been among the 11 states the Russians bypassed, according to the Secretary of State’s press aide, Chris Powell.
“Our (information technology) people have done some scans and found nothing” that would appear to suggest a data breach, Powell told me. Nor, he added, has the office received any information from other government sources to indicate any tampering.
Russian meddling in U.S. election processes evidently began in 2015 and continued into the autumn of last year, as the nation was choosing a president, and perhaps unto now. And all the while, and in years previous, supposedly responsible political leaders were spooking the gullible and firing up the conservative base with tales of “voter fraud” that independent studies, one after another, found to be baseless.
No one is proposing a return to those paper ballots and plywood boxes. But it most definitely is time to stop wasting time. And to look at real threats to election integrity. It will take more than a padlock.